[Pigging by Wilfrid: December 31, 2012]
Mysteries was the name of a novel by Nordic author Knut Hamsun. I don't know if he was a forager, but he did write a novel called Hunger.
All of which scarcely conceals the fact that I don't really know what to make of Aska, the studious exercise in new Nordicism which has sprung up in place of the over-subscribed Frej.
Now Berselius is solo in the kitchen, with Eamon Rockey -- formerly of Atera -- as general manager. As at Atera, dinner comprises mainly a series of savory, then sweet "snacks" -- described as such by the servers (all quite charming, by the way), with the odd larger plate along the way. There's much less whimsy here: no baguettes disguised as razor clams, no lumps of coal on moss. Thankfully, there are fewer frozen items too.
The price of the tasting has soared from $45 to $65, which is still reasonable for the no-choice eleven or twelve course meal (there's a bar menu, too, served only in the bar area). There are some great savings on the wine-list too, not so much because the mark-ups are inhibited, but because they found good, inexpensive wines in the first place (the Domain Monpertuis "Counoise," for example, listed at $35).
Some kind of crisp with some kind of goat cheesy foam in it.
The style is recognizably, indeed austerely "new Nordic" -- although what that means to those of us who've not dined in Scandinavia is not much more than very strange leaves, and plate compositions taken from the forest floor or a pond. And bitterness, quite a lot of bitterness. I should emphasize that what the kitchen seeks to do, it does very well.
A question remains as to whether there are more worthwhile things to do with a kitchen (and with this evident talent) than hew so rigorously to a prescription of crisps, smoked things, leaves, more smoked things, onion juice, sprouts...
Dinner kicked off in suitably skewed fashion with a "Silly Rabbit," which turned out to be cinnamony julep with rabbit ears made from slices of carrot. Warm rye rolls came out, with unsalted butter and beef tallow scraped around the side of the plate.
From there, things got complicated. Refusing to take notes while eating, I'm sure I missed some of the key ingredients recited by servers as they presented the following:
A scallop crisp dotted with foam: the crisp was beyond fishy, almost kippered. And some kind of goat cheese on a ginger cookie.
Sea buckthorn berry crushed onto a pig's blood chip. A pork rind: a veritable chicharron.
This was a lovely little dish: smoked Maine shrimp with dill, cucumber, and rapeseed oil. And little foam doobreys (don't know, don't know...). The shrimp were smoky, but still sweet.
Then came a couple of gigglesome plates. First, potatoes and pickled onions. Basically. But with a sour milk foam, and also the flavor of mackerel somehow imparted to the dish. The potatoes and onions were nice, but that much you could do at home blindfolded. The added value came from the foam, and I'm not sure how much value that was.
A glass of chilled, alcoholic onion juice was the obvious accompaniment, readily proffered by the sommelier.
Well, what can I say? I can tell you there was some anchovy in the foam. The sole value of this dish lay in watching a room full of eager foodies gnawing the sprouts from the stem. I refused. I plucked a couple, found them undercooked, and moved on. Actually, I suggested sending them back to the kitchen to be roasted with some bacon, but wiser heads prevailed.
Make that three gigglesome dishes, although I liked this one much better. Lichen, salsify, and a broth of "autumn leaves." I am not making this up. In fact, the broth was good and savory, the lichen had the texture of meaty mushrooms, and the overall effect was pleasantly memorable.
This was tasty too -- a comparatively generous serving of well-charred Long Island squid, body and tentacle, imitated by slices of turnip, and flanked with a succulent spring of purslane.
Yay, meat. Quite nicely done, a crisped fritter of trotter meat, a slice of shank, some caramelised sunchokes. And doobreys of foam. The unanimous view at my table was that you could put this together with the potato-onion dish and make a nice plate of food. I'd take the brussel sprouts too, well done.
After a pre-dessert reprise of that brown chip from earlier, this time with a sweet, cold filling, a lovely plate of ice cream. Cardamom-flavored with brown butter and some chips of hazelnut.
Anyway, back to Knut Hamsun. You want a pithy summary? From the descriptions and photos, you should be able to tell if you like it or not. I liked more than half of it; the parts I didn't like were ridiculous. How does that balance out? I'd be unhappy if I'd paid Atera prices for it, but I didn't, and it was an interesting evening.The website doesn't tell you much.